After the increasingly large heatsinks that we have seen on those higher-end enthusiast boards, the Intel P45 chipset has brought along much reduced heatsinks and this DFI is an excellent example of the relatively minimal cooling required for this chipset. The North and Southbridge heatsinks are all passively cooled and modest in size.
Unfortunately, despite its size, the Northbridge heatsink still managed to give us a rather negative impression. DFI situated this heatsink a bit too close to the CPU socket and with the fins of the heatsink angled slightly outwards and upwards, it was in contact with our CPU cooler, making it more difficult to remove the CPU cooler, since one of the CPU cooler mounting holes was very close to the Northbridge heatsink. We imagine that it could be even more of a hassle for those with larger CPU coolers.
Except for that potential pitfall, we found the layout of this DFI board to be on par with the competition. The SATA ports were all aligned to face outwards and cannot be blocked by longer graphics cards. The other connectors like the IDE, ATX power and floppy were all located at the edges of the board, along with other headers for USB, audio or the front panel. Even the CMOS battery was right at the edge for easy access.
Onboard power and reset buttons are as expected, found near the front panel connectors, together with a Clear CMOS jumper. Along with a similar jumper at the rear I/O panel, DFI has certainly made it very convenient for their target users, overclocking and gaming enthusiasts who may be constantly tweaking and tuning their systems.
In short, if not for that Northbridge heatsink, we would have given high marks for the layout of this board. It's not a deal breaker by any means but you should check whether your CPU cooler will be inconvenienced by this arrangement before buying,
When it comes to the features that you'll find on this mATX board, expectations should be moderated to account for its space constraints. Although it does have all the important features of the Intel P45 chipset with a ICH10R Southbridge, some of the extras that are found on other P45 boards are removed. This means no FireWire, no extra SATA 3.0Gbps or e-SATA ports besides the standard six given by the Southbridge and no dual Gigabit LAN ports that so many vendors seem to be putting onto their 'mainstream' P45 boards.
You'll still get 8-channel HD audio thanks to a Realtek ALC885 CODEC, with both optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs at the rear. Support for IDE and floppy devices is retained with the addition of two controller chips while the memory support is competitive, with 4 DIMM slots supporting up to 8GB DDR2-1066.
There's even CrossFireX support, with the two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots onboard splitting into a pair of x8 configurations when you install the appropriate graphics cards. However, while the P45 chipset supports either 1 x16 or 2 x8 for the PCIe lanes, depending on the number of graphics cards installed, this DFI LANParty JR is hardwired to only do 8 lanes for each slot, whether it's one or two graphics card installed. We suspect this could either be a cost cutting measure or the lack of PCB space to accommodate the digital switching circuits. Unfortunately, this will definitely affect the graphics bandwidth and hence the performance, something that we'll be exploring in our benchmarks next.
Finally, we mentioned earlier the Auto Boost System from DFI. This proprietary feature is found on DFI's recent mainstream motherboards, where presumably users need a holding hand when it comes to overclocking or they just want a quick convenient method of tweaking. Hence, DFI has introduced this. You can read about the Auto Boost System in our previous review of another DFI P45 motherboard.